This has been a memorable week for Vermont. Not since Tropical Storm Irene last August have so many news events converged into seven consecutive news cycles. Whether it was teachers fighting for their contracts, ratepayers seeking compensation from an electric utility, a Supreme Court considering health care overhaul, a presidential visit, on one of the most disturbing murder cases we’ve all seen since Brooke Bennett.
Needless to say, the week gave us a lot to think about.
Here are a few thoughts on the news of the week:
Pink was everywhere in the Green Mountain State on Friday — a day honoring Melissa Jenkins, the 33-year-old St. Johnsbury Academy teacher who was strangled to death Sunday. While the husband-and-wife suspects are in custody without bail, Vermonters opened their hearts to remember Jenkins in a host of ways. The most visible was donning pink (one of her favorite colors). Meanwhile, residents also opened their wallets to graciously contribute to a fund for the single mother’s young son, who is now living with family. Vermont demonstrated great compassion and generosity at a time when money is tight. As we all struggle to cope with the ugliness of Jenkins’ violent death, the burden is eased somewhat in knowing so many people are reaching out in one family’s time of need. It is how we are in our finest hours.
Vermont’s top utility regulator did right to endorse a proposed merger of the state’s two largest electric utilities, and removing “major concessions” that will deliver benefits to hundreds of thousands of ratepayers.
While some lawmakers say the proposed merger between Green Mountain Power and Central Vermont Public Service Corp. continues to favor share prices over ratepayers, the negotiated agreement has blunted much of the criticism previously leveled against the $700 million deal.
Commissioner of Public Service Elizabeth Miller said the concessions, outlined in a memorandum of understanding between the Department of Public Service, GMP and CVPS, will “significantly increase (the merger’s) value to customers.” That is good news, and makes the process less political and squarely where it belongs: in the market.
Since GMP’s Quebec-based parent company, Gaz Metro, submitted its takeover bid last summer, controversy has centered largely on three issues: how to compensate CVPS ratepayers for bailing out the utility in 2001; ownership of VELCO, the state’s electric transmission company; and how to split projected savings associated with the merger between shareholders and ratepayers.
For all intents and purposes, the deal holds everyone properly accountable. Now the proposal awaits final approval from the Public Service Board, which likely will issue a ruling this summer.
The excitement leading up to the presidential visit was palpable. Even though the four-hour campaign stop was really only accessible to the state’s top 1 percent (of Democrats anyway), Vermonters seemed to appreciate President Barack Obama coming to town. For certain, there are those in flood-ravaged communities across Vermont who wish he had come last summer, even if it was just flying over Vermont to witness firsthand the devastation Irene inflicted. But the state was forgiving, welcoming, enthusiastic and supportive.
The price of admission to see Obama was steep by any standard (as was his subsequent election-year stop in Maine). It does beg the question: When did politics become a wholesale commodities market? In a state that on Town Meeting Day has dozens of Vermont towns vote in support of some campaign finance reform, it is a shame Obama’s visit has to be — more or less — about money. (Today is the last day to raise cash.)
After all, our leaders — from select board members to the president of the United States — are where they are because we put them there. As one Facebook poster pointed out on Friday, “Call me cranky, I’m not sure (Obama) — nor any politician, from our congressional delegation on down — remembers that it is they who should humble themselves to us, and not the other way around. We are in this mess in part because we’ve all somehow come to behave as though we owe our political leaders deference, awe and great thanks. Enough.”
Regardless, we were glad to see you, Mr. President. Stop by in a non-election year, too.
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